We've talked a lot--and I mean, a LOT--about where things stand with Texas State football from a fanbase-centric, off the field perspective. Of course, the reason we're all here is to eventually watch the product on the field, and we're all thirsty for the latest edition of Texas State concussionball.
Just about every single publication seems to think Texas State will stick around in a 6-6/7-5 no-bowl purgatory yet again. However, I'm starting to see reasons why Texas State can and will get over that blasted 6-7 win hump and make a bowl game, and they're (hopefully) not delusional. My fellow staff members might not agree with me, my perspective obviously skews towards homer, and I could very well be guilty of a mid-July offseason delirium that eventually infects everyone with a bad case of winpredictioninflationitis.
Come fall we'll see who's right. In the meantime, let's talk some football.
1. The defensive line has more depth than you might think
Outside of pass rush terror Michael Odiari, the defensive line was mostly inconsistent in 2014. However, there's a new set of players returning from injuries, shedding redshirts, and coming in as potential impact recruits that could make this unit's depth on par with the solid 2013 unit.
In addition to linebacker Jerrid Jeter-Gilmon moving up to play a hybrid DE/LB like Mike Orakpo to provide extra pressure, Texas State has--according to Jack Albrecht at BobcatReport--talented DE Cedric Gambrell moving inside to DT, which should help offset the loss of non-qualifier Javier Edwards at that position. JUCO DT Steven Eddings could also push incumbent starters Dallas McClarty and Mershad Dillon for a first string spot.
Roosevelt Pearson is also coming back healthy at DE, and two experienced occasional starters in Karee Berry and Jeff Banks (who had 2 sacks in the spring game) return at the edge. Marcus Dallas Jr. and Brian Guendling also have game experience and provide depth at DE.
There are questions as to whether the DTs will be difference makers, but if they're used as they have been in the past to plug holes in the middle and bounce opposing backs to the outside, then the DE's may just be good enough to disrupt running lanes and give the linebackers room to clean up. If all that raw talent can provide something resembling a coherent pass rush, then this defense shouldn't fall off too much from last season.
2. The defense will likely be much more aggressive
Spring games usually don't tell you much, but there was a surprisingly large emphasis on blitzing and pass rush during the 2015 Texas State spring game. Texas State being willing to deploy more than just basic coverages in a spring game was surprising enough despite defensive coordinator John Thompson being a blitz aficionado.
Yet that change is even more stark when viewed in the context of previous defensive coordinator Craig Naivar's 4-2-5 scheme, which was much more passive and dependent on linebackers and the secondary reacting to throws by occupying passing lanes. In other words, Texas State now feels it has the personnel it needs to take chances by throwing more than a few blitzes at their opponents, which is either a good sign or a recipe for disaster. If Thompson is willing to try these new schemes despite losing his defense's five most prolific playmakers, it's probably the former.
That's not to say the defense didn't show more aggression last year in Thompson's first season than under Naivar, but it looks like Texas State might be ready to really start causing some havoc in 2015.
3. Tyler Jones has improved his footwork--and his accuracy
Fall practices will give us a better idea of where things stand with exactly how much Jones has improved, but he rifled incredibly accurate throws through tight coverages in the spring game and would've led the game winning touchdown drive against a fairly staunch maroon defense if it hadn't been for the memorable Hail Mary ending. He also looked calm and composed in the pocket despite the defense throwing 6 or 7 guys at him on almost every play.
Oh, and he's still the dual threat, exciting as hell, straight-off-the-set-of-Mad-Max-Fury-Road sledgehammer that he's always been.
4. The playcalling is getting better
Yes, we've all been hard on Coach Fran and his staff for some of his more passive playcalling decisions make in the past, myself included. But in case you didn't notice, things changed for the better towards the end of the season. Franchione and his staff opened up the playbook against Georgia Southern, which gave Texas State a great chance to come back and win (unfortunately, it also cost them via a backbreaking pick six).
The ensuing South Alabama game was at times a playcalling debacle, although the Jaguars' nasty defense deserved some major credit for stuffing Texas State in the red zone despite four USA turnovers. But the offensive decision-making from the booth really improved when Texas State ground up Arkansas State and Georgia State through both the ground and the air. Sure, Arkansas State's defense was a walking med-evac unit by then, and Georgia State's defense was in its usual disastrous state, but it was a vast improvement even from just a few games earlier. That wouldn't have happened under 2013's self-limiting slothfense.
What's even better is that the offense still returns quite a few starters that made those good moments happen.
5. The running back unit is still very deep--and receivers might be stepping up
Losing Ben Ijah and Terrence Franks is unfortunate as you lose their big catch ability and blazing speed, respectively, but the Bobcats may be able to replace them without skipping a beat. Workhorse RB Robert Lowe returns, and he'll have Chris Nutall back in the lineup to plow through defenders. Nutall may have learned a few moves in his last few offseasons as well, which we saw him show off in the spring game. Tim Gay and Steadman Mayberry are also back for the occasional change of pace.
Jones also targeted Demun Mercer and Brice Gunter heavily during the spring game, and speedster CJ Best is still around to burn defenders deep. Mercer appears to be finding additional ways to get open, while Gunter may finally be reaching his potential. If the ever-mercurial but talented Jafus Gaines and Brandon Smith can finally have breakthrough seasons, this offense could be the best in the Sun Belt.
Honorable mention: Experienced o-line, David Mims, Chris French replacing Brad Miller at tight end.
Do you think Texas State has what it takes to bust over the 6-7 win hump and make a bowl? Leave a comment below.